Issue: People often make decisions by the seat of their pants.
Risk: You can easily walk into ethical dilemmas by not thinking through tough decisions.
Action: Be aware of four red flags that could indicate you're on a slippery ethical slope.
Most people aren't conscious of how they make tough decisions in the workplace. They often go with what feels most expedient at the moment, an approach that can get them into trouble.
Instead, it's useful to be aware of these four common clues that can warn you if you're heading in the wrong direction ethically. Reconsider a decision if you're:
1. Wondering if it's legal. If you find yourself scrambling to learn whether an action is legal, chances are it isn't ethical.
"Decisions should never tiptoe up to the legal line; they shouldn't even come near it," says Robert Rosell, president of QMR, an ethics-training company.
2. Trying to keep it a secret. If you're concerned what will happen if your decision becomes widely known, reconsider the choice you're making.
3. Making rationalizations. You shouldn't have to rationalize your decisions to yourself. Phrases like "I deserve this" or "They owe me" are signs of trouble.
4. Feeling in your gut that it's wrong. "Most of us instinctively know when we've crossed an ethical or moral line," says Rosell.
Spreading the ethics gospel
Laws and regulations keep people from overstepping ethical boundaries at work, according to a new AmericanAssociation (AMA) study. But the threat of legal action can't keep everyone in line; employers must also emphasize the importance of ethics.
"Legislation is no substitute for the presence of leaders who support and model ethical behavior," says AMA President Edward Reilly. "Corporate leaders need to communicate ethical values throughout the organization, but they must do more than talk the talk."
Reilly says employers should integrate ethics into company goals, performance-management systems and the employee-selection process.
The AMA study says the single most important ethicalbehavior is keeping promises, followed by encouraging open communication, keeping employees informed and supporting employees who uphold ethical standards.